From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Thursday, January 5, 2012

If you didn't write, what would you do?

My roomie and I were talking last night, like we do sometimes. She's a writer too. I don't quite know how it came up, but we were talking about people who write just for themselves, with no goal of publication at all. Just for the fun of it. I told her I couldn't write like that. That I need that end goal of getting my words to readers as something to work towards, and that without it I don't know if I would have the gumption to finish any serious project.

I'm not sure how I feel about that. What does it mean that I feel that way? Why did I get into writing in the first place? I got into it because of the fulfillment and genuine joy it brings me. This may sound ridiculous, but I sort of feel like I don't and never did really have a choice. I don't want to go so far as to call writing a "calling", but its been with me and part of me for as long as I can remember. There have been times when I've wanted to write and do something else (photograph for National Geographic was a big one), but I've always wanted to write. I don't know what I would do if I didn't write. I'm not saying I couldn't live, I really just don't know what I'd do instead.

That could be an interesting mental exercise. What would it feel like to just completely drop the writing ball right now, and what would I do instead? I actually think these are good questions to ask, especially for me at this point, because I've been so focused on the career/business aspect of a writing career. It would be good to remind myself why I love writing in the first place.

So, what would it feel like? Very scary, first of all. I would feel very hollow. I would feel like the effort I've put into things all these years would have gone to waste, and that I would be behind in whatever else I decided to do. I would jump into whatever else I decided to do with my whole soul and kind of go bat crap crazy about it just because I don't know any other way to do things. It would be the littlest bit exciting, and I would have fun going through possibilities. The first one that comes to mind is aiming for a career at some place like National Geographic or the World Wildlife Fund or some other environmental non-profit agency. That seems like it could be amazing.

But would something like that, or any other career be as fulfilling? I'm thinking out-loud and trying to be totally honest with myself here. I really don't think it would. I mean, it would be incredibly fulfilling, but it would not feel as personal. I love the idea that through writing, I will never die, or that I can continue to be an influence in the world not just generally, but in a very personal way. I could see acting filling that same personally fulfilling need, but I don't know if it would go as deep, and I'm pretty positive I don't have the claws it takes to succeed in that industry these days.

I'm having a hard time being patient with writing right now, which is why I think this exercise has been helpful. It has actually been extremely helpful. I'm allowing myself to imagine life without going crazy about a writing career, and as refreshing as it seems in some ways, I don't want it. I'm impatient right now, but that's all it is. Impatience. I'm doing the planting and sowing, I just have to wait for the harvesting and reaping. But it will come, and this is the garden I want to plant in. For sure.

Another way it has been helpful though, is that I've been having day-job uncertainties. Because all I want is writing, I've been unsure about what to do in terms of supporting myself. Just last night I was telling my roomie that I was in this weird place of not being totally stable but not really knowing what I wanted as far as jobs go. But this helped me realize that there are other things that would be amazing that could support me and that I could do as well as write. The environmental agency thing is sounding better and better, and every writer needs a second career as well, right? Who says they have to be mutually exclusive? Because I'm so obsessive it takes extra thought for me to imagine things in a dual-career kind of way--how do you obsess over and give yourself to more than one thing?--but I don't think it has to be that way necessarily. I might have to start doing some research and see what I can see.

Whew. Thanks for letting me do that, guys. I actually feel like I've just aired out and sorted a mental file cabinet. What would your answers be? Could you imagine life without writing, and what would you do instead?

Sarah Allen


  1. After I burned (yes burned) the draft of a book before I started Doorways, I actually did completely stop writing so that I could clear my head and find my bearings so that I could write something new and unrelated. I resolved to stop writing until I got a new and worthy idea.

    It took six months.

    In that time, I grew closer to God, watched a lot of movies, read a lot, studied, had a social life, had most of my sanity, and had an interesting sense of peace.

    Then I got my idea and got back to writing... I actually enjoyed having more of a normal life, but I don't think I'll willingly give up writing ever again, even if I came very close to it in January last year.


  2. This is an interesting question you've posed. And I honestly don't know the answer. I often go long periods of time without writing, and then write for long stints of time. I'll sit down to write a short story and walk away with 47,000 words. I'll intend to write a longer story and be content with 5,000. Very quite often I take a break because I need it, and in that time, I don't feel the urge to write.

    I haven't always written and I don't feel a "calling" to it... however it's something that I know I do well, am entertained and energized by, and is something that might push me toward publication someday. Publication wasn't my goal for a very long time and it's only been in the last year that I've been thinking about writing for the masses.

    I have a very full time, permanent day job, I guess, that keeps me in that mindset. It lets me write for fun and entertainment and not for a living. I think if the situation were different that writing would play a large part in my daily life and thought process. It would define me.

    Right now it doesn't, but only because I don't let it.

  3. Hey Sarah,

    What an interesting notion. Well. I guess if I didn't write I would still have to find some other medium to express myself artistically.

    Before writing books, I used to make valentine cards. Mostly as a hobby. But I remember one valentines when I sold quite a few to my friends. That was my first time earning any kind of money. Cost me loads though, so clearly, it wasn't a very profitable venture.

    Then I started writing music. And after a few years of sticking at it, I became quite the composer. I remember being able to write a radio-worthy pop song in under 30 minutes.

    Nowadays, I find myself spending more time building websites (the day job). But I know my heart truly lies in storytelling. Life without writing I can imagine. But life without storytelling (i.e. via singing, composing, painting or whatever) I simply cannot.

    P.S: My book, The Mediator, is now available for free on Amazon. Offer ends tomorrow though. So snag your free copy while you can.

    The Mediator

  4. Writing is the career I think would be most fulfilling to me, but there are other options out there. I love your environmental agency idea--finding something that will support you while letting you do what you love is always a great goal!

  5. Even if I couldn't make a living by writing, I'd still do it. I love it too much. But this is a question I've been thinking about too, because since I'm not writing full-time, it's important to me to have a day job I love that also gives me time to write. I really like my current job in book publishing so I'm grateful for that.

  6. Ugh! Hollow is right. I've thought of this, actually. I'm also an artist, so I'd just fall back onto my artwork (that I've been neglecting while writing)! :)

  7. I honestly don't know what I would do if I wasn't pursuing a career in writing. I am not one of those people with a lot of talents or skills. The only thing I have ever really wanted was to be a writer. It's an interesting question, though. I hope I am never in t position where I have to give it too much thought! Fingers crossed!

  8. If I didn't write, I would most likely be a property manager. I probably will any way once winter is over. Nice thing is, it doesn't take up much time so I can still get a lot of writing in.

  9. I guess I would act full-time. Or rather, act/waitress full-time. ;) I think it's perfectly fine to write for something other than your own fulfillment. I love writing to be read (or performed, in the case of plays). You never know how people will react. Writing by myself would take all the fun out of it!

  10. I think that sometimes stepping away from writing and doing other things will help you remember why you want/love/need to write in the first place.

  11. I've given up writing many times. For a while, I was uber obsessed with writing the perfect novel and getting it published, but not so much now. It's made a lot of things a lot simpler.

    If I didn't chose writing as a career, I'd probably be involved in the entertainment industry in some way, either as a performer or a manager of some sort. As for the second career of a writer, I'm young enough to settle for anything that pays the bills while continuing to look for that "dream job" that allows me to be happy in my work and still do the things that make me happiest.

  12. Hi Sarah!

    I love this post for so many reasons.

    I feel a lot like you most of the time. Writing is my passion; I pour my heart and soul into it. And without it, I'm not sure what else I could do. And like you, I write with the dream that others will love my story and characters as much as I do.

    I have a degree in Education; I work for a Human Resources firm. But there is nothing more fulfilling to me than sitting down at my computer and creating the world that, until now, has only existed in my head. If I could give up my job and do nothing but write every day, I would!

    So, I guess, if I wasn't a writer...well, I'd probably continue to work in Human Resources - but I would be restless, and I would probably never find contentment in life.

    Thanks for such a good post. :)

  13. I actually did have a life without writing, having only picked up the pen (computer?) in December 2005.

    However, never once did I have the basic goal of writing for the sheer pleasure of it. Always had the goal of getting published.

    Took me quite a while to get there, with two short stories in three years published, and I'm still having fun in doing it.

    My goal is still to get something published, whether it be a short story or a novel, but in the meantime, I'll still have fun with it, in the form of blogging, which is always a great way to practice and hone your craft.

  14. I feel exactly the same way. But to be honest. I do write for my self. I have so many good ideas but i dont really know how to put them into good use. So i post about my life. Which gives me joy because i can remember moment better than in my head. Great post :)

  15. I started writing when I was 10 and am still doing it 40 years later because it's the great love of my life. I measure my success by the joy it gives me. I teach because I love kids and their creative, imaginative minds. So I guess I'll always stick to teaching and writing come what may.

  16. I love this post, and it is a great question. Most of what I've been writing in the past few years, no one but me has is the basis for a novel that is my goal to publish in 2013. This year's goal is to publish a book based loosely on my website..a non-fiction 'how to' book for writers...getting started, finding work, resources for all stages, etc..hope to have it published by April if funding works out through Kickstarter.


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